Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include a video embed of Sean Spicer’s appearance at the Emmy Awards.
Sunday night, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made an onstage appearance at the Emmy Awards. That he shared this moment with Stephen Colbert, a late night comic and vocal critic of President Donald Trump, Spicer’s former boss, was a surreal twist. Spicer trotted out, podium in hand, to spout a few lines about the enormous size of the show’s crowd; this stunt was a self-deprecating reference to the disgraced spokeman’s line defending the president’s inauguration attendance, which earned him a “pants on fire” rating from PolitiFact.
Many were aghast that Colbert could take something so serious so lightly. Vox‘s Caroline Framke called the joke a “toothless punchline.” Over at The New York Times, Frank Bruni wrote about Spicer’s “shameful embrace” by the awards show. And Glenn Greenwald, writing for The Intercept, indicated that Spicer’s positive reception was a “necessary outcome of the self-serving template of immunity which D.C. elites have erected for themselves.”
Spicer’s many lies from the press podium reached far deeper, and were far more damaging, than that silly bit about crowd sizes. Those who remember the former press secretary’s staunch support of President Trump’s voter fraud fabrication, the false claim that 3 to 5 million illegal votes were responsible for his popular vote defeat, are still reluctant to extend the hand of forgiveness.
They have good reason to feel this way. Spicer’s tenure proved only that the man was willing to debase himself, lying to the American public in the process, to further his own professional credentials. Is it really acceptable to play nice with the abettor of such despicable demagoguery?
Yes, it is. Spicer is no longer in power; he ceded his role in the Trump administration following the president’s hiring of Anthony Scaramucci as communications director. (Ironically, Scaramucci, whom Spicer detested, lasted less than a fortnight in the position.)
Further, Spicer has admitted his guilt. The New York Times reported Monday on the apology. In an interview, reporters asked Spicer if he regretted berating the press on inauguration crowd sizes. “Of course I do, absolutely,” he said.
This admission, alone, is enough to forgive and forget. Spicer was merely a mouthpiece — an audacious, comedic and terrifying mouthpiece, but a mouthpiece all the same. The former press secretary is certainly no Sheriff Joe.
Spicer, stripped of his title and without a platform, is merely a sideshow. The man is now someone to pity; further attacks on him will accomplish little.
Trump critics should take care to focus the bulk of their rebuke on those who indisputably deserve it so maybe they, too, will one day fall from power. That is the goal of political comedy, to take the powerful down a peg, and to ease and comfort the powerless.
God knows there are still plenty who deserve such a check on ambition. ■